Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

I grew up with an image in my head of Berlin as a war-torn, divided, miserable city that, in the 1950s and 1960s, I was fairly unlikely to visit.

The dominant image of Berlin at that time was the Brandenburg Gate, battered by war, isolated by the obscenity of the Berlin Wall.

When the Wall came down in 1989 the most memorable images were those with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.

So on my first visit to Berlin, late in life, the Brandenburg Gate was my first priority, from which unfolded my explorations of this vibrant, lively city.

Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808), it was built 1788-91, its six columns providing five arches, the outer two on each side for the public and the larger central arch reserved entirely for the king.

Its original function was to mark a customs post on the road from Berlin to the city of Brandenburg.

Napoleon, when he invaded in 1804, made a point of marching through the central arch, and took the Quadriga, Johann Gottfried Schadow’s sculpture of a chariot with four horses, back to Paris.

When the Prussian army occupied Paris in 1814, the Quadriga duly returned to its proper place, and the Gate was redesignated as a triumphal arch and the goddess driving the carriage, originally Eirene, goddess of peace, was kitted out with an Iron Cross and a Prussian eagle and became Victory.

Through the early twentieth century the Gate was part of a busy thoroughfare, connecting Unter den Linden in the east with the leafy parkland of the Tiergarten to the west.

After the war, the wrecked buildings surrounding the Pariser Platz, immediately to the east of the Gate, were flattened, and when the Wall was built in 1961 it became a sad, isolated symbol of the Cold War divisions.

Now the Brandenburg Gate is splendidly restored and the Pariser Platz is bordered by new buildings.

And, as I discovered, it’s virtually impossible to photograph without a foreground of selfie-takers.

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